PMT 2016-050 by Krish Kandiah
Without my glasses, younger children in my household look at me as though I am a stranger they have never met before. To me, the world around feels very different. Last week my glasses were stolen and I became very aware how my myopia caused me to feel disoriented, claustrophic, nervous, and unconfident.
Something similar happens to Christians when we lose our global glasses. We fail to see what God is doing on the world stage and instead we become parochial and introverted, limited in our vision and witness.
For the 31st year in a row the International Bulletin for Missionary Research (IBMR) has produced its state-of-the-globe report on religious statistics. It’s a fascinating read and the meticulous work of the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary-based Centre for the Global Study of Christianity is to be applauded. Here are five trends that struck me as I read through the statistics.
1. The Church is growing slowest in Europe and North America
The good news is that the Church is still growing in Europe and North America. The increase is small, but there is increase nevertheless. Whether the growth is attributable solely to migration or birthrate I am not sure, but there is still a net increase in the number of Christians in the West. Since 1900 the Church in Europe has seen a 52.2 per cent increase, rising from 368,254,000 in 1900 to 559,900,000 in 2015. But alongside the fact that the world’s population has grown by 78 per cent in the same period, those statistics don’t sound quite so impressive. Even more challenging would be the change in percentage of Europeans that now claim any kind of Christian affiliation, which is not a figure that the IBMR report currently publishes.
Greatness of the Great Commission (by Ken Gentry)
An insightful analysis of the full implications of the great commission. Impacts postmillennialism as well as the whole Christian worldview.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Molly Wall, the programme director of Operation World, adds that amid concern for the overall decline in Christians, evangelicals in Europe can feel encouraged as “evangelical Christianity grew in strength and confidence in most European countries from the 1990s to the present, even while the overall population grew slowly or even declined”.
2. The Church is growing dramatically in the rest of the world
The Church has seen dramatic and explosive growth in Asia, Africa and South America. The growth of the African Church in particular is jaw-dropping. In 1900 there were fewer than 9 million Christians in Africa. Now there are more than 541 million. In the last 15 years alone, the Church in Africa has seen a 51 per cent increase, which works out on average at around 33,000 people either becoming Christians or being born into Christian families each day in Africa alone.
Strangely, this statistical growth is often met with some scepticism by the western Church.
I often hear derogatory remarks about Christianity outside Europe, North America and Australia. There is a superiority complex when it comes to the global Church. There remains a conviction that Western Christians should be congratulated for heading off on teaching ministries to educate church leaders or for raising funds to correct theological challenges in the rest of the world. Christians in Nigeria and South Sudan are facing extreme levels of persecution and the Church is still growing, but it is rare for Christians in the West to think that we have anything to learn from believers there. Very few of our conference speakers, authors, worship leaders or resources originate from ‘the rest of the world’.
Lord of the Saved
(by Ken Gentry)
A critique of easy believism and affirmation of Lordship salvation. Shows the necessity of true, repentant faith to salvation.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
So despite stupendous growth and spiritual blessing there is still a colonial mindset in western Churches that wishes to downplay God’s work in those countries. Perhaps it is time that our conference organisers, publishers and missionary organisations help the Church in the West to reorient its place in the global Church, ensuring that we approach our brothers and sisters in the two-thirds world with greater humility and a willingness to learn.
3. Christianity is easily the world’s largest religion
When every form of Christianity is added together there are more than 2.4 billion Christians worldwide. So just over a third of the world’s total population claim some kind of Christian faith. This figure includes what we know as nominal Christians, who may know very little of the Christian faith and may not practise their beliefs, but nevertheless in a census declare themselves as Christian. Islam comes second, with 700 million fewer adherents. Christians in the UK need to remember this when they see church services attracting fewer people than they did before, some church buildings being repurposed as restaurants and homes and the Christian faith losing some of the influence and confidence it used to hold in the public square.
Professor Brian Stanley of Edinburgh University’s Centre for World Christianity reminds us Christianity “neither began in western Europe, nor has it ever been entirely confined to western Europe. The period in which it appeared to be indissolubly linked to western European identity was a relatively short one, lasting from the early sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.” Christianity used to have its global centre in Israel, then later in Syria and eventually in Italy and Turkey. It now seems that the centre of gravity has moved to Africa.